Graduation from college means many things, but for some people, it means the chance to travel, serve, and learn about faith and what the world needs. A year of faith based service is an experience that seems to benefit both the volunteers and the peope they dedicate tlhemselves to serving, although it is by no means an easy road.
Director of Volunter and Vocation Ministry Michelle Sherman of service program Associate Missionaries of the Assumption (AM) said, “Many peopie feel that a year of service is a year off. I would say it is very much’a year on.” Sherman, who completed two years of service at a high school in New York before coming to AMA, added that a year of service is a way to combine “your faith life and life life”. Although they are based inWorcester, Massachusetts, AMA also has locations in the Philippines, England, and New Mexico.
Regis University graduate Teresa
Warhola of Denver, Colorado, served in Chaparral, New Mexico, in a wide range of ministries, including a high school, a shelter for immigrants, and a local church where she taught a confirmation class. She and her fellow AMA volunteers spent time with the AMA sisters and participated in Tuesday retreats with them.
Warhol said that, at times, it was difficult trying to teach students about the Faith and what it means to serve others, but she remembered one moment from Thanksgiving that was very impactful for her. She and the kids drove around the town delivering baskets of food to families and singing. “At the end of the night when we delivered our last basket, one of the women invited all the youth into her house,” Warhol said. “We all crammed into her tiny living room and began singing. She just was so touched by it, saying, ‘You guys are doing God’s work. Keep doing it. KeepJesus first in your life”
AMA’s arms reach all the way to Walker, England, one of the lowest-income areas in the United Kingdom. Cincinnati native and graduate of Xavier University Lauren Brinkman served at Kids Kabin, an after school arts program. “The biggest thing I love is the work that I’m doing and the people that I’m doing it with,” said Brinkman. “I’ll be in the grocery store, and one of the kids will run up because they were really good at school and so their mom is buying them a new toy, and they are so excited to tell me about their day.”
The kids can also be a challenge. “Kids with behavior difficulties can be very aggressive, talk back to you, lie extremely disrespectful, cuss you out, get in your face, and they can be very intimidating when they want to be, Just because their lives can be so hard,” Brinkman added.
This is Brinkman’s first time living away from home, and she knew it would be an adjustment living in a new environment and living in community, but she said it has been a lot offun living with three other volunteers. “It’s nice to corne together at the end of the day and have dinner and talk about our day, what frustrated us, what we thought worked really well, and what we are happy about. It’s rewarding to live with people who are able to relate to what it is you’re going through,” she said.
Not doing it alone seems to be a large part of what it means to serve. “I think young adults are really looking for a sense of community where they can serve, ask questions, and also learn from each other,” said Sherman. “We have had AMAS who are Catholics but see things differently than other Catholïcs, so all that facilitates great conversation when it comes to the question of what faith means.”
Sister Mary Ann Azanza of Worcester, Massachusetts, served as an AMA in the Philippines, and that experience helped with her discernment process.
“As a young person moving into that experience, I was so captivated by what I saw of the Assumption sisters - the beauty of their community life, the beauty of a life given to God,” Azanza said. “The deep fullfillment one feels when you see that something is made better in a person’s life, or in a community’s life, because of the contribution you can make. And all that is received in return. Seeing how beautïful
that was just drew me into the life.
Face of Christ
In 1989, Father Jim Ronan from the Archdiocese of Boston also saw the beauty of cornmunity in another country. He went to Ecuador and lived in the Durn area as a priest. He found he wanted to give young people from the United States the chance to experience Christ in an Ecuadorian community within the realities of poverty. He founded the program Rostro de Cristo (RDc), which is Spanish for “face of Christ’ Rostro de Cristo sends volunteers to two areas with a high concentration of poverty in Ecuador.
RDC has two components - a weeklong immersion component for retreat groups and the yearlong post-graduate service program fora total of 14 volunteers. There are usually about 30 to 50 applications to be a postgrad volunteer. Both service experiences include refiections and discussions about how to see the face of Christ in others.
Dameile Roberts became a RDC Fellow after her year of service from 2012-2013, where she participates in the work on the United States side ofthe program. Her experience in Ecuador enhanced her faith life and also made her reflect more on her vocation.
“I had always believed that God was bigger than any reality that I could experience or bigger than any belief that I could have, but I think being in Ecuador allowed me to see that a little bit more concretely. Seeing the way that people with different realities and different cultures speak a different language related to God was a good way for me to concretely understand some thing that I wanted to believe,” Roberts said.
Ministry of presence
Margaret Cunningham and Gavin Tisdale are two volunteers who spent the year 2013-2014 serving in Durán. Both of them knew early on in their college career that they wanted to do a year of service. Cunningliam served at Damien House, a charitable hospital and clinic for Hansen’s Disease in Guayaquil, and also participated in an after-school program called Semillas de Mostaza, or “The Mustard Seed".
“There are little moments every day that remind me why I’m here,” said Cunningham. “At Semillas, we had two new kids that came. After talking to them, I found out they hadn’t eaten all day.
The program provides each child with a banana, a piece of bread, and a gummy vitamin, and oftentimes this is all they will eat throughout the day. “It was nice that we were able to give them something to snack on,” added Cunningham
Tisdale facilitated Semiilas de Mostaza and also spent time volunteering at other service sites. He, too, found the little things like relationships with the kids and getting to know them to be important parts of his days in Ecuador. “It’s really difficult to hear their stories and where they come from, but it also makes us work that much harder to create a space where they can corne and feel safe and have a place to hang out, relax, and be kids for a little bit,” Tisdale said.
Much of the workthe RDC volunteers does is based on a “ministry of presence,” or simply being with people. The reflections and prayer incorporated into their community living are one way they learn more about faith, but being with the native Ecuadorians was another component to learning about Christ.
“Above ail, what I learned this year is just where I’m at in my faith journey,” said Tisdale. “I’ve learned to really be there with people and learn how they live, how they pray, how they express their faith. I think to sit down at a table and to break bread is a very Christian thing.
In catholicdigest, septembre 2014